Health

Flu shot advice

  • Health minister Kim Wilson receives a flu shot (Photograph supplied)

The Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, JP, MP has issued a call to all residents to help contain the risks of influenza in the upcoming season by getting a flu shot and taking other preventive measures.

After receiving her annual flu shot at Hamilton Health Centre today Minister Wilson encouraged everyone to take advantage of the available influenza vaccination.

Minister Wilson said, “For many people, the influenza vaccine can completely prevent influenza. For the rest of the population, it reduces the severity of this infectious disease and the risk of ending up in hospital.”

Minister Wilson added, “As you know, the famously popular “Flu Express” is back this year, with the first one held this week. The next is on Wednesday 13th November at Penno’s Wharf, to be followed by the final one on Saturday 16th November at the Hamilton Health Centre. But if you cannot make these venues, you can visit your own doctor for your flu shot or go to the Hamilton Health Centre.

“To date, in 2019, people admitted to hospital with severe respiratory illness have been as young as babies, and up to 97 years. The average age has been 48 years, and the most common diagnosis has been influenza.

“There is no better way to safeguard yourself and your family from influenza than vaccination. A healthy diet, exercise, covering your coughs and sneezes, and washing your hands using soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers can all help as well. But their effectiveness against flu infection is not as good without vaccination. Your best bet is to do them all.

“In the same way we prepare and protect our homes ahead of a storm, we need to prepare for the flu season and protect our own lives and the lives of our loved ones. Even when the vaccine does not prevent influenza completely, people who are vaccinated get less sick, have fewer complications and are less likely to die.

“This week the United States had its first two paediatric deaths due to influenza. It is most dangerous to the very young, seniors, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses, and those who are taking immunosuppressant medications. Each year young, healthy people die due to influenza too.

“Bermuda has had its own casualties in years past, and we have already had our first confirmed flu cases for this year. The common strains of influenza detected in Bermuda have been the virulent H1N1 and H3N2 strains – both of which are protected from by the vaccine

“Bermuda’s high incidences of diabetes, asthma and heart disease also make influenza more dangerous. When patients with cardiovascular disease get influenza, they are significantly more likely to have a heart attack the week after diagnosis. Asthma and diabetes patients are three times more likely to die of influenza complications than other patients.

“Even if you do not get influenza yourself, it is highly likely you have a loved one who is at risk. Babies under six months can’t be vaccinated against influenza – and so they are particularly vulnerable. Vaccination can prevent you from carrying the disease even if you don’t get sick and would otherwise unknowingly give it to others.

“Last year our own hospital’s ICU was so full due to people seriously sick with flu and on ventilators, they had to warn the public. Not only was this dangerous for the individuals who were critically ill, but it put the whole community at risk. Our healthcare service was in danger of not being able to take any more critically ill or injured patients. Even if you didn’t have the flu, but had a bike accident or a stroke – your life could have been at risk because of the high number of people very sick with flu taking up beds due to an otherwise preventable disease.”

Minister Wilson noted, “This year, the flu season is predicted to be worse than last year - worse even than 2017. Millions of people around the world have flu vaccinations every year and so the risks are extremely well documented and researched. So are the risks of not getting vaccinated. Guess which one puts you and your family at far, far greater risk of death and disability? Not getting vaccinated leads to hundreds of thousands more deaths and complications every year. In the end, it is up to you. But your choice could have serious implications to you, your family and the community. So read the proven evidence. And make sure you choose wisely.

“This is also an opportunity to remind the public of the ongoing investigation of mumps cases occurring in the Bermuda community. There are 2 confirmed and 2 suspect cases under investigation by the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit of the Ministry of Health. In 2017 and 2018 there were no cases of Mumps and ordinarily since 2009 no more than 1 – 2 cases were reported annually.

“Mumps is a vaccine-preventable, contagious disease that can be easily spread by droplets of saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose or throat of an infected person, usually when the person coughs, sneezes or talks. Mumps typically starts with a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite, followed by swelling of salivary glands under the ears on one or both sides. Most people with mumps recover fully, however, mumps can cause complications, especially in adults.

“To prevent spread to others, if you have symptoms of mumps, call your doctor or the emergency room before you go so that they can take precautions to prevent others from getting infected. Two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine is the best way to prevent mumps. Check your vaccine record and visit your doctor or the Child Health Clinic, Victoria Street, Hamilton to update your vaccination status.

“We are lucky that in the 21st century we can take for granted advances in medicine that can prevent diseases that 100 years ago led to serious illness and even death. Today, we have these advances at our finger tips. Let us appreciate the access and take up the immunizations available to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

NOTES FOR THE MEDIA

The seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine is available to the public from the Department of Health, at a cost of $15.00 per shot (for both adults and children). Persons over the age of 65 years will receive the seasonal flu vaccine free-of-charge.

The flu vaccine will be available:

1) at Hamilton Health Centre,

2) through Flu Express, and

3) at the offices of most private physicians.

Health Centre Schedule

Location: Hamilton Health Centre (Ground Floor)

Date: Mondays to Fridays

Time: 8:30 am – 11:30 am

“Flu Express” Schedule

The Department of Health will also be offering influenza immunization in the community through “Flu Express.” The “Flu Express” will enable people to drive to a designated site and receive the flu vaccine while waiting in their car, without having to get out. This will make it easier for some people to access the vaccine.

Location: The Warwick Post Office (under the Rubber Tree), 70 Middle Road, Warwick

Date: Wednesday, 6 November, 2019

Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Location: Penno’s Wharf, St George’s (Enter via Tiger Bay Gardens)

Date: Wednesday, 13 November, 2019

Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Location: Hamilton Health Centre (Car Park), 67 Victoria Street, Hamilton

Date: Saturday, 16 November, 2019

Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Who should attend the “Flu Express”:

• Persons aged 50 years and older

• Healthy adults who are in close contact with the elderly, infants and children, and any persons with chronic medical conditions

• Children aged 10 years and older

• Healthcare workers, caregivers and essential service workers

• Persons that have received the flu shot each year

• Persons who are clinically obese with a BMI greater than 40

• Persons with chronic health problems that are at risk of complications from the flu, e.g. diabetics, asthmatics and those with heart disease. They should inform their doctor when they have been vaccinated.

Flu injections will only be offered at the “Flu Express” on the specified dates, to individuals in good health without active infections.

You will not be given the shot if:

• You have allergies to eggs, chicken products, or any component of the vaccine

• You have had a reaction to the flu shot before

• You have a fever or are unwell

Please dress comfortably to allow the nurse easy access to the injection site in the upper arm.

Please have the correct amount of cash ready during your attendance at the “Flu Express.” (Credit/Debit card facilities will not be available at the “Flu Express” sites).

General Benefits of Flu Vaccination:

• Decreased chance of contracting influenza

• Decreased chance of contracting influenza in pregnancy and increased protection for new born infants

• Increased protection against influenza during travel abroad

• Increased wellness in your steps to maintaining your optimum health

• Increased quality of life for our community, especially the seniors, infants and children and persons at risk of complications from the flu

• Decreased absenteeism from work or school due to influenza

In protecting yourself against influenza, you are also protecting your family, your household, your workplace and ultimately your community.

About Influenza:

Influenza or ‘flu’ is a highly contagious infection caused by the influenza virus. It is generally spread from person-to-person by coughs and sneezes from an infected individual. Outbreaks of flu are most common in the winter and occur each year, peaking in the months of January & February in the northern hemisphere and in July & August in the southern hemisphere. These annual outbreaks are due to minor changes, (‘viral shifts)’ in the virus, which enable them to evade the immunity that individuals developed following a previous infection or a flu vaccination. Having an annual flu injection provides a high level of immunity to the anticipated circulating strains of flu virus. Individuals who have had flu before or been immunized previously, may only have partial immunity to this season’s flu. They are vulnerable, but may have less severe symptoms.

Flu Symptoms

Symptoms of flu develop two to four days after exposure. Typically, persons experience a sudden onset of sore throat, and runny nose with high fever, headache, backache, muscle pains fatigue and general malaise. Although it is unpleasant and debilitating, most people recover after a few days. Extra fluids, bed rest and aspirin or acetaminophen are all that are needed. (Aspirin is not indicated for children with flu-like symptoms because it may cause serious complications e.g. Reyes syndrome).

In some people, flu infection can be quite serious because it may increase their risk of developing complications, such as pneumonia. The very young (especially infants under 6 months of age), the frail elderly, pregnant women, and people with other medical conditions are those most likely to develop complications. If cough, high fever, or marked sickness persists beyond a few days, especially in these groups, a physician should be consulted.

Flu Prevention

• The chance of contracting flu and other upper respiratory infections can be reduced by frequent hand-washing, by ‘covering’ coughs and sneezes, disposing of soiled tissues and avoiding crowded places.

• The flu vaccine is a safe and highly effective method of preventing most cases of flu. Side effects are rare and usually mild.

• The currently available flu vaccine has been designed to provide protection against the most likely circulating strains of influenza virus for the 2019/20 flu season. This vaccine contains (4) strains. It is an ‘inactivated’ vaccine, that is, it contains killed viruses and therefore cannot cause flu. It is administered by injection and is safe for persons aged 6 months and older.

Influenza vaccine is recommended for all persons over the age of 6 months. Children aged 6 months to 9 years require two shots, given 4 weeks apart, if they are being vaccinated for the first time against influenza.

Priority groups for influenza vaccine include: i) pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy, ii) children 6 months to 5 years, iii) healthcare workers and caregivers, iv) persons with chronic medical conditions including diabetes, heart or lung conditions, asthma, sickle cell anaemia and immune system diseases, v) the elderly, vi) persons who live in long term care facilities and vii) obese persons with a BMI greater than 40.

Individuals under their physician’s care for chronic medical conditions and children under the age of three years are asked to obtain a prescription for their flu immunization from their private physician.

Press release from the Ministry of Health